Monday, October 29, 2012

October 29, 2012

Sandy-Fueled Superstorm Is October Surprise in Presidential Race
by Bloomberg News
October 29, 2012

The October surprise goes by the name Sandy.

And unlike many late-breaking developments of U.S. presidential elections past, neither side is certain which candidate, if either, will be helped or hurt.

What’s clear for both President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney is that the superstorm brewing off the East Coast is shaking up an already hard-to-predict contest as it enters its pivotal final week, upending campaign schedules and interfering with the rivals’ ability to communicate with voters as they make their closing arguments.

As they scrapped visits to storm-threatened states, Obama and Romney fanned out today to other politically competitive, vote-rich areas -- the president to Florida and the Republican contender to Ohio -- to begin making their last public pushes, while advisers fretted about the weather’s potential impact on their bids.

Members of both parties said there was no way to predict the political effects on either side. Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia said the weather would “throw havoc” into the race, and Republican pollster Whit Ayres said it might be enough to change its course.

“Anything could be significant in races that are this tight,” said Ayres, who isn’t affiliated with either campaign.

Hybrid Superstorm

Hurricane Sandy is on track to hit the Eastern seaboard later today and merge with two strong winter storms to create what federal officials called a potentially life-threatening hybrid superstorm. The system will have an impact on four politically competitive states -- New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia -- and is denying the presidential candidates control over the carefully choreographed final days of their campaigns.

Other than Florida and North Carolina, the swing states with the greatest tradition and volume of early voting aren’t along the East Coast, so it was unlikely the storm would hamper pre-Election Day ballot-casting.

Still, there was the potential for power outages that could effectively bring about a campaign advertising blackout in Virginia, and a chance that heavy media coverage could drown out both candidates’ final messages as voters turn their attention to a major storm, even in states that aren’t directly affected.

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Over the Cliff?
by Paul Jacob
October 28, 2012

We don’t let small children play with sharp knives, loaded guns, or near the top banks of cliffs. They haven’t learned the consequences of their actions. They aren’t responsible. Yet.

You might think that politicians, who are adults, shouldn’t be treated the same way. But “power tends to corrupt,” and we know even more about that, today, than our Founding Fathers did. And they knew enough not to let politicians do just anything they wanted. They put constitutions in place, to limit politicians’ purview and power.

Arguably, today’s politicians need more checks, for they have been playing near cliffs . . . and are set to drive us over the embankment.

Or, I should say, “embankments.” Plural. You’ve heard talk about “the fiscal cliff.” But that definite article is misleading. We’re headed towards more than one such cliff.

This coming January, if Congress and the president fail to take action, every American who pays income taxes will pay more. Also set to increase? Payroll taxes, which every worker pays.

And an increase in taxes is the very opposite of a “stimulus” to the economy. Hence “the cliff” metaphor.

But even if we can avoid falling off those cliffs, another threatens.

It has been identified by finance professors Robert Novy-Marx at the University of Rochester and Joshua Rauh at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, who summarized for The Washington Post their recent research paper, “The Revenue Demands of Public Employee Pension Promises,” in which they essayed to determine

how much additional money would have to be devoted annually to state and local pension systems to achieve full funding in 30 years, a standard period over which governments target fully funded pensions. . . . How much will your taxes have to increase?

We found that, on average, a tax increase of $1,385 per U.S. household per year would be required, starting immediately and growing with the size of the public sector. An alternative would be public-sector budget cuts of a similar magnitude, or a combination of tax increases and cuts adding up to this amount.

But that $1,385 figure is only an average. “New York taxpayers would need to contribute more than $2,250 per household per year over the next 30 years,” according to their analysis. “In Oregon, the amount is $2,140; in Ohio, it is $2,051; in New Jersey, $2,000.”

If we don’t get the problem under control, this cliff keeps getting higher, making, as the professors put it, “the $1,385 per-household increase required today seem cheap.”

How did we find ourselves on top of such a steep fiscal cliff?

Well, that brings us back to politicians. These are the folks we vote into office at the state and local level. They face similar pressures that politicians in Washington, DC, face. Whatever their intentions when going into office, while there they are surrounded not by normal citizens, but by state functionaries, by “public servants.” And these are awfully nice people who any reasonable person wants to help. So, when politicians sit down with government employee union reps and the head bureaucrats, to determine rates of compensation, including “benefits,” it’s awfully tempting to be generous.

With our money.

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The October Surprise in 2010
by Patrick Caddell
October 28, 2012

At 4:22 p.m. on Friday, October 29, 2010, President Barack Obama stepped into the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House and announced some startling news: Two bombs, hidden inside printer cartridges, had been detected the previous day on a cargo plane heading from Dubai to Chicago.

The detection was obviously good news--but did it really have to be news? That is, wasn’t there much to be gained by staying mum on the news, with an eye to catching the culprits?

Even if the bombs had not exploded as the terrorists had planned, there was no need to let them know that the plot had been foiled, as opposed to the bombs having merely malfunctioned. In intelligence circles, this investigative process is called “walking back the cat”--that is, trying to reverse-engineer the process by which the security system was penetrated in the first place. And that reverse-engineering can best be done in secrecy, before the bomb-makers have a chance to scatter.

But that’s not what happened. Here’s what the President said on that Friday afternoon two years ago:

The American people should know that the counterterrorism professionals are taking this threat very seriously and are taking all necessary and prudent steps to ensure our security. And the American people should be confident that we will not waver in our resolve to defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates and to root out violent extremism in all its forms.

Yes, it’s nice to know that a bomb was thwarted, but it would have been even nicer to know that the bomb-makers had been arrested or killed.

So why didn’t the President wait until he had more good news? What was the hurry on the announcement? We might note that the October 29, 2010, announcement came just four days before the 2010 midterm elections. And the President’s announcement was soon followed by five “readouts” of Obama conversations with the foreign leaders whose countries helped unravel the plot. In other words, the Obama administration worked overtime to push its counter-terrorism news to the forefront, just just before the elections.

The result was a decent-sized rally-‘round-the-flag effect. After all, what could Republicans say? Who can be against good news in the war on terror? Perhaps the GOP could have made the point about premature release of sensitive information, but they would have risked looking churlish as a result.

In any case, the impact on the 2010 elections was substantial. According to the exit polls, a full nine percent of those voting on November 2 said that combating terror was the most important issue--and of that nine-percent slice of the electorate, the Democrats, boosted by the news of the cartridge bomb, won by double digits. That is, even as they were losing on just about every other issue, the Democrats won on terrorism. The result was a lift for Congressional Democrats; they probably held on to an additional Senate seat or two, and perhaps also another half-dozen House seats.

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